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Mana Whanonga Pirihimana Motuhake

Unintentional discharge of Police firearm

13 October 2020

The Authority oversaw a Police investigation into an unintentional discharge of a Police M4 rifle that occurred on 15 December 2019 in the Eastern Police District.

The unintentional discharge was said to have occurred as a Police officer leant in and removed his M4 rifle from the back seat of his patrol car. The officer told Police that his finger slipped onto the trigger and a single shot was fired into the rear left passenger footwell, impacting with the road surface beneath. The officer located the spent cartridge casing on the front passenger seat.

Police determined that the officer did not comply with safe firearms handling practice, in that he did not check whether the rifle's safety mechanism was activated immediately before removing the weapon from his patrol car or keep his finger clear of the trigger. The officer received an employment sanction.

The Authority found that the officers account was inconsistent with the physical evidence: namely, the absence of any damage to his patrol vehicle. Issues regarding the standard of the Police investigation were raised with Police, who concluded that the bullet was inadvertently fired directly into the road surface. Photographs of the scene showing the location of the officer's patrol car, the position of the officer and the suspected bullet impact site do not support this conclusion. Nor does the spent cartridge casing being located inside the vehicle.

The Authority reported these concerns to Police who concluded that, due to miscommunication, the circumstances of the unintentional discharge were not as originally described, with scene markings only being indicative of the officer's, and his patrol vehicle's, general location at the time of the discharge. Police concluded that the bullet went through an opened back seat door without conducting further enquiries. No further investigation was undertaken and the true circumstances surrounding the alleged unintentional discharge remain unknown.

Additionally, the Authority found that a second officer also handled the rifle without first checking whether the safety mechanism was activated. This officer should also have been sanctioned based on the information available to Police.

The Authority found the Police investigation was not up to the standard required and did not identify and follow relevant lines of enquiry.

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